Coach: Mike Taylor
Mike McGrath Sr., GK
Stefan Miller Sr., GK
Tom Martin Jr., GK
Jason Ziolkowski Jr., D/M
Kyle Sukowicz Sr., F
Spencer Moore Jr., M
Mateo Leudo Jr., M
Kevin Klinkenberg Jr., M
Ross Randon Sr., M
Ashwin Cornelius Sr., M
Mitch Ryan Jr., M
Jackson Owens Sr., M
Ben Quiaot Jr., M
Jack McNamara Jr., M/D
Ryan Henry Jr., M
Mark Beletti         Sr., D
Michael Duszynski Sr., D
Ethan Wolf Jr., D/M
Nick Eschbach Jr., M/D
Andy Smith Jr., F
Jon Surdam Sr., D
Troy Wheeler Sr., D/M
Kevin Ruth Sr., D
Kevin McMahon Jr., M
Mark Tun Jr., D
Philip Jacobs Sr., D
Nick Winter Jr., M
Kyle Koss Jr., M/D
Stephan Todd Jr., D/M
David Zakrzewski Sr., F
Jordan Tully Jr., D
Dominic Perrone Jr., F
Alex Quist Jr., D/M

Lions advance to state finals
By Mike Garofola


Out in the middle of nowhere, Saint Viator found soccer heaven Tuesday night.

Inspired by a brilliant long-range cracker at 52 minutes from sophomore Zach Gyuricza - and the will and desire to play on the final weekend of the 2012 season - the Lions booked their place into the last four teams of the Class 2A state tournament after a hard-fought 2-1 victory over East Moline United at the Hampshire supersectional.

Next up for the Lions will be Urbana on Friday at 1:00 p.m. at Lincoln-Way North in Frankfort.

"I am happy for players like (Ashwin Cornelius), who looked to be out for the season after he suffered a knee injury, but somehow found a way to get healthy enough to come back for these last couple of games,” Viator coach Mike Taylor said. “And Troy (Wheeler), another one of the few seniors we have on this ball cub, who have put so much into Saint Viator soccer during their careers, and now have a chance to play for a state title this weekend."

Taylor was finally able to breath deep and easy after his lads held off a valiant fight-back from a United club that was big, strong, quick, and anxious to show it belonged in the tournament three days from now.

"Saint Viator is a very good side, but we felt we could play with them for certain," began United (21-4-3) manager Phil Weaver. "But when we lost our organization and shape along the back, they were able to take advantage on both of their goals, and that's the way it goes sometimes."

That the Lions (20-3-3) are back in the state finals for the 8th time in program history wasn't lost on Cornelius, or his young teammate and man-of-the match Gyuricza, who both looked exhausted long after the Lions lifted the trophy following 80 minutes of up-and-down soccer on a blustery, cold night in Hampshire.

"I never imagined I would be back playing again this year after my injury, and it has been tough sitting and watching all of this time,” Cornelius said. “But the guys have worked hard to get through some ups and downs during the season, and I am just glad that we came out of here with a victory to send us into the state tournament."

"Just amazing," Gyuricza said of the Lions’ upcoming trip to Lincoln-Way North. “Just amazing. (The winning goal) happened kind of fast, but after (Ryan) Henry gave me a good ball, I just turned, leaned over, and hit the ball hard."

The sophomore, who spells the Lions top strikers Spencer Moore and Jackson Owens and plays as a sometime midfielder, hit a spectacular 30-yard screamer far into the upper right corner and out of the reach of Hampshire keeper Mitchell Schneider.

Schneider extended his body and arms but was unable to get close to the right-footed missile, which would have been lost in the fields if it had gone over because of the tremendous amount of pace supplied on the ball.

"The shot of a lifetime," quipped Lions assistant Brian Dahlquist, who ironically was in the 1999 state tournament with Conant the last time United made an appearance. United won it all that year, 2-1 over Lincoln-Way and former L.A. Galaxy star, Ned Grabavoy.

Taylor was hoping to win the coin toss and play into the wind in the first half, and then use the wind advantage to stay in the United end in the second half. United chose to play with the wind after winning the coin toss, and after the Lions weathered a strong opening 15 minutes, they slowly got back into the match to make the next 15-20 an evenly played affair, setting up a wild and frantic second half.

"When we saw (United) the other night against Kaneland, we watched a team that starts out fast - really coming at you - and we talked about that with the boys in training, and what to be ready for," Taylor said.

United was especially dangerous with its dynamic one-two punch up top of hard-running Drew Merideth (28 goals) and Mamdou Ba, a speed burner who could turn on a dime before delivering right-footed drives on the run.

Viator senior Michael Duszynski, after finding out what Ba would and could do, turned in a superb 80-minute effort to help keep his counterpart in check most of the night.

"What (Duszynski) doesn't have technically, he instead brings so more in hard work, desire and a work rate that has now made him the perfect complement alongside Wheeler in the back," Taylor said.

"And with the way both (Mark) Tun and Wolfy (Ethan Wolf) played back there, the guys were able to keep (United) from creating too many quality chances on us."

After a goal-less first period and after the Lions nearly gifted Merideth an easy chance from 6-yards, the scoreless tie broke at 47 minutes when Mateo Leudo got in close during a momentary breakdown by United and literally chested a shot up and over a surprised Schneider, who was off his line and challenging a loose ball in his area.

Leudo has scored his share of big goals this season, and Tuesday’s was a huge one. "To get the lead was crucial, but we gave it right away less than one minute later with some bad play in our end," Taylor said.

Truth be told, the individual work along the right flank from Claudio Barbosa helped United equalize when his devilish cross found the head of Nicolas Moreno, who went the opposite way of Lions keeper Michael McGrath.

"With that first goal, we took the momentum away from (Moline) who had a huge crowd cheering for them, but we gave it right back when they equalized,” Cornelius said. “But when (Gyuricza) hit that bomb, it really quieted down their fans and helped us settle down for the rest of the second half.”

Anxiety gripped the fans of both clubs for the near half-hour of play remaining, and both sides gave their faithful plenty to cheer and groan about.

Play got a little chippy as the urgency revved up, and the center official issued a handful of well-deserved bookings with the hope of bringing things back under control.

United poured forward with a vengeance after the Gyuricza goal, first with Merideth beating two defenders before laying a nice ball off to Austin Blair, whose shot veered over the bar.

On the hour, Tun's nifty tackle ended a run from Ba into the area, before Gyuricza missed out on a dandy chance to double the Lions’ lead after Owens and Wheeler initiated a shot that slipped through the gloves of Schneider and right to Gyuricza.

"I should have put that one in," Gyuricza said.

Henry, strong throughout on both sides of the ball, put Gyuricza through but the assistant referee near the Lions’ bench raised his flag for the offsides.

Both Drew and Ryan Merideth will likely reflect on their chances to get things even in the closing stages, as each had the ball on their foot in close, five minutes from time.

After a handball just outside the box put Ryan Merideth on the Panthers’ freekick, the sophomore drove his shot off the wall and the ball spilled to a sitter for brother Drew, who in turn drove his return shot wide of the left stick.

The Panthers’ chance to level was the last that Saint Viator would concede. "We came to play tonight, and I very proud of our effort," began Taylor.

"We knew we would be in for it tonight. Moline is a very, very good club. But we told the boys if we win tonight, there's a chance that we play for the state title on Saturday if we bring a good effort from here on out, and tonight they did just that."

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